First global $199K air taxi sold live to buyer from Guangdong

The first global dollar199k air taxi sold live to a buyer from Guangdong

Interface News Reporter | Zhang Xilong

On March 21st, Interface News learned from EHang Intelligence that on March 20th, during a live sale entitled “Make a Friend” on the Taobao platform, a total of 12 intent payments of 39,900 RMB each were made for the EH216-S autonomous aerial vehicle, with one full payment transaction, with the buyer hailing from Guangdong Province.

Priced at 1.99 million RMB during the live event, this sale marked the first transaction of an unmanned aerial vehicle on an e-commerce platform.

He Tianxing, Vice President of EHang Intelligence, told Interface News that historically, EH216-S transactions were negotiated offline with partners. However, last night’s live sale not only resulted in an immediate sale but also secured several intent orders, representing a significant step forward in promoting urban air mobility to consumer markets.

On March 18th, the EH216-S was listed on Taobao with a price tag of 2.39 million RMB, and as of March 21st, Interface News found that the store still indicated zero sales.

He Tianxing explained to Interface News that choosing to feature unmanned aerial vehicles on Taobao’s industrial goods section is also part of a process to educate and popularize the concept among consumers.

Airworthiness certification is a prerequisite for the commercial operation of eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft. In October 2023, the EH216-S received its type certificate from the Civil Aviation Administration of China; by December 21st, it obtained a standard airworthiness certificate and began deliveries to its first batch of customers, with plans to commence commercial operations in scenarios such as low-altitude sightseeing and city tours.

Following certification, EHang Intelligence experienced a spike in deliveries, handing over 23 EH216 series eVTOL aircraft in the fourth quarter of 2023. This quarter saw the highest number of deliveries in three years, leading to revenue of 56.6 million RMB (approximately 8 million USD), a year-over-year increase of 260.9%.

Hu Huazhi, the founder, chairman, and CEO of EHang Intelligence, mentioned in a recent fiscal earnings conference call that the production license for EH216 is in its final audit phase. Preparations for commercial operations are underway, including operator training and the development of operational systems, and they aim to commence commercial air taxi services within the year.

Another model by EHang Intelligence, the VT-30, which is listed on Taobao, plans to undergo airworthiness certification within this year. The two models, EH216 and VT-30, are intended to cover all potential applications for China’s urban air mobility.

However, despite certification, EHang Intelligence has primarily catered to government clients and business customers. Since the fourth quarter of 2023, EHang has formed strategic partnerships with several local governments, such as in Shenzhen’s Bao’an and Luohu districts, Guangzhou’s Huangpu District, Hefei, and Wuxi, as well as the UAE in the Middle East, garnering hundreds of EH216-S pre-orders and setting up eVTOL operational stations in various locations.

Despite these developments, the consumer market for urban air mobility is challenging to unlock in the short term. The sales price of 2.39 million RMB restricts the potential audience to a small group of high-net-worth individuals and differs significantly from purchasing a 2 million RMB luxury car, which only requires a parking spot, unlike an air vehicle which requires a helipad.

Liu Libo, Secretary-General of the South China Commission on Low-Altitude and Transportation Economy under the China Transportation Association, analyzed for Interface News that the consumer market for urban air mobility is essentially a physical economic form of an aviation sales atmosphere. It requires cooperation across multiple areas, such as unmanned equipment, education and training demonstrations, airport ecology, and comprehensive application scenario empowerment. Additionally, it demands detailed after-sales, safety channels, training, flight services, and operational support, with live sales playing more of a promotional role.

Despite the TC certificate issued by the Civil Aviation Administration to the EH216-S, this does not mean the eVTOL is ready for urban air traffic operations. For now, EHang has only completed commercial demonstration flights in places like Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Hefei without officially commencing operations.

eVTOL’s business value differs from traditional aviation services, which operate on a “seat-selling” basis, as eVTOL requires integration with specific scenarios. Its commercial value needs to be closely connected to various industries such as medical transport, cultural tourism, educational travel, dining services, and more.

Cities like Shenzhen, Zhuhai, and Guangzhou have successively conducted eVTOL demonstration flights. On February 27th, Fengfei Aviation’s eVTOL “Shengshi Long” simulated the first cross-city and cross-bay route from Shenzhen’s Shekou Cruise Homeport to Zhuhai’s Jiuzhou Port Terminal, and its operator Dongbu Air Travel predicts that prices would range from 200-300 RMB per person upon scaled operations; on March 8th, XPeng Huitian Traveler X2 unmanned air vehicle conducted a demonstration flight from Guangzhou’s Helicopter Square, flying over Guangzhou CBD.

Xie Jia, Senior Vice President of Fengfei Aviation Technology, told Interface News in an interview that operations would begin with cargo transport, with certification for cargo planes expected “very soon,” followed by passenger transport, which is anticipated to obtain certification by 2026.

Before large-scale commercial use is realized, a series of steps are needed, including infrastructure improvements and enhanced coordination of airspace management. Wang Peng, an associate researcher at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, pointed out that several challenges remain for the commercial use of urban air mobility: the lack of a coordinated airspace management mechanism, as China’s airspace management involves multiple departments with no comprehensive coordination, leading to cumbersome airspace utilization approvals and strict flight control which restrict the development of urban air mobility. Additionally, compared to other sectors, the market share of low-altitude consumer services is relatively minimal, and market cultivation and development will take time.

According to an analysis by BOC International, EHang Intelligence is currently the only certified enterprise, and as of October 2023, it held over 450 pre-orders for its EH216 series products in the Asian region. Priced at around 2 million RMB per aircraft, and with the delivery period for these orders spanning several years, the short-term eVTOL market size is estimated to be several hundred million yuan. Coupled with operational markets such as cultural tourism, it’s projected that the eVTOL market driven by EH216-S could reach a scale of 1 billion yuan.

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